Bangladesh's main opposition party terms train fire sabotage, demands UN probe

BNP leader Ruhul Kabir Rizvi said the incident was "pre-planned" and called for the immediate arrest and punishment of the "perpetrators"

Most of the 290-plus passengers on the Benapole Express were returning home from India (representative image: DW)
Most of the 290-plus passengers on the Benapole Express were returning home from India (representative image: DW)


Bangladesh's main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has demanded a UN-supervised investigation into a fire on a passenger train that killed at least four persons, calling it a "pre-planned" act of sabotage ahead of the general elections being boycotted by the party.

The incident occurred at around 9.00 pm on Friday, 5 January when four carriages of the Benapole Express that runs from Benapole, a town bordering West Bengal, were set on fire as it was near its destination station of Kamalapur.

Railway officials said most of the train’s approximately 290 passengers were returning home from India.

Shahjahan Sikder, deputy assistant director of the fire service and civil defence media cell, said they recovered four bodies from the gutted coaches of the train.

In a statement, BNP senior joint secretary Ruhul Kabir Rizvi expressed concern over the "heartbreaking incident of casualties due to arson by miscreants on the Benapole Express train headed from Benapole to Dhaka".

"There is no doubt that the Benapole Express train fire was an act of sabotage, leading to the loss of life," the Daily Star newspaper quoted Rizvi as saying.

He termed it an "inhuman brutal atrocity against humanity" and called for a UN-supervised investigation into the incident, the paper said. Rizvi also said the incident was "pre-planned" and called for the immediate arrest and punishment of the "perpetrators involved".

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed deep shock and sorrow at the loss of four lives in the Benapole Express train fire. She directed the authorities concerned to investigate whether the fire was an act of sabotage.

She also prayed for the salvation of the departed souls and directed the authorities to take immediate steps for the treatment of the injured.

Bangladesh goes to polls on Sunday, 7 January. More than 100 foreign observers, including three from India, have reached Dhaka to monitor the general elections.

Led by former PM Khaleda Zia, the BNP is boycotting the general elections and is demanding they be conducted by an interim non-party neutral government. The demand was rejected by the government headed by Hasina, who is chief of the ruling Awami League.

Foreign ministry officials said a three-member delegation from the Election Commission of India reached Dhaka on Friday, while 122 others from different countries were set to arrive ahead of the 7 January polls, which the United Nations said it would watch closely.

Bangladesh has witnessed a couple of train-related arson incidents in recent months. On 19 December 2023, an unidentified person or persons set a train ablaze killing four people, among them a mother and child, amidst an opposition countrywide strike.

Again, one passenger was killed and dozens wounded as saboteurs uprooted railway tracks when seven carriages derailed in Gazipur on the outskirts of the capital in early December.

On 2 January, a train carrying some 300 passengers narrowly averted a major crash at the last minute as suspected saboteurs removed 28 dog spikes or hooks from the tracks on a railway bridge in northern Bangladesh. The Awami League accused the BNP of carrying out the sabotage, which the party denied.

Meanwhile, a school was partially damaged after suspected miscreants set it on fire in Khulna's Dumuria upazila (subdivision) on Friday night.

Dumuria police station officer-in-charge Sukant Saha said miscreants set fire to the Tipna Government Primary School in Kharnia Union at around 9.30 pm, thinking it was a polling station. The school library was burned down in the fire. "We are conducting drives to arrest the miscreants," he added.

Unidentified miscreants also partially burned a passenger bus in port city Chittagong's Nayabazar-Eidgaon area on Friday night. However, no casualty was reported.

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